The Doctor is more likely to change race than gender, says TV historian

Posted by er134 at Nov 21, 2013 11:46 AM |
‘Fans would be outraged’ at the prospect of a female lead for Doctor Who

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 November 2013

In fifty years, we’ve seen Doctor Who regenerate nearly everything, from its main protagonist to its mainstream appeal – but we are unlikely to ever see the Doctor change gender, claims a University of Leicester television expert.

Fans will be tuning in on Saturday 23 November in the hope of discovering more about a mysterious and previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor, portrayed by John Hurt.

As Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary, a University of Leicester television historian has praised the science fiction stalwart’s ability to regenerate itself for new generations of fans – but doubts that hopes for a female incarnation of the Doctor will ever be realised.

Professor James Chapman is the author of Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of ‘Doctor Who’ – A Cultural History (2006), as well as books on other classic British television and film icons such as Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s and Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (1999; 2nd edn 2007).

In a new interview on the University of Leicester website, Professor Chapman argues that to cast a female Doctor would signal a change in dynamic for the series – and the fan reaction would be strong.

Professor Chapman said: “I think fans would be outraged if there was a woman ‘Doctor Who’ – just as if there was a female James Bond.

“I don’t think it will happen. First, because it would too radically alter the Doctor/companion relationship – the Doctor has to be the dominant role and the companion is there to ask questions. I can’t think of any examples in popular fiction where this has worked with a woman in the lead role.

“And second, because there’s no textual evidence to indicate that a Time Lord can in fact change sex when they regenerate. There is some evidence that they may be able to change ethnicity, though, so there’s no reason we could not have a non-white Doctor.

“Once bookmakers had suspended betting it was no surprise that Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor. An interesting choice that bucks the trend in the new series so far towards ever younger stars.

“Each actor has brought something distinctive to the role, but the Doctor always seems to maintain his Britishness (it would be unthinkable to have a Doctor with an American accent!) and a certain sense of quirky individuality and eccentricity.”

Regardless of the casting of the main character, Professor Chapman believes that Doctor Who has maintained its appeal across the generations by always keeping on top of contemporary sensibilities.

He adds: “It’s always had to satisfy a modern audience: the audience of 1963 was a modern audience. I think it’s very successfully negotiated the changing institutional and cultural landscape of British television. The device of ‘regeneration’ has built in the possibility of renewal, so the series is able to refresh itself periodically.

“From the outset Doctor Who was designed as a family (not a children’s) TV series with characters to appeal across age groups.

“For young children it’s got monsters and special effects; for teenagers who might be getting interested in science fiction and fantasy it’s got those genre ingredients; and for adult viewers it has moments of emotional drama.

“That said, adults can appreciate green monsters too!”

You can read the full interview with Professor Chapman here:


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Professor James Chapman on

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